Early primates may have been set on the path of sociocultural development because of alien intervention, as portrayed in the popular production 2001: A Space Odyssey. But there is no need to resort to fiction. Human folklore is replete with tales of interactions with strange beings from the skies.
Among the lesser-known myths is that of the Eskimos. Eskimo legends tell of being transported to the frozen northern lands in "giant metal birds". According to Pauwels and Bergier, attention has been drawn to curious cultural parallels between various archaeological sites located in Greenland, Siberia and Ceylon. But apparently the claim cannot be authenticated.
One case which most nearly meets Sagan’s three stringent criteria (see above) is the ancient Sumerian civilization. The Sumerians were profoundly affected by the Apkallu (possible representatives of an advanced, nonhuman, amphibious extraterrestrial society), who taught them laws, science and architecture. No attempt was made by the aliens to conceal their nature. However, the first requirement -- that there be a contemporary written account -- is partially lacking. The only description that has survived appears in the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic (ca. 2000 B.C.), one of the oldest existing written texts in the world today. But second-hand reports are just not good enough.
The Sumer legend is interesting because the creatures are always spoken of as "beings," "endowed with reason," and "personages" -- but never as "gods"! Were it not for the unusual subject matter the account would doubtless be considered an ordinary historical event, as there are no mystical or super natural overtones in the writing.
Most other legends don’t appear to represent a radical alteration of any culture. The 3,500-year-old Egyptian bible called the Book of the Dead speaks of "those who with their knowledge reach the vault of the sky" and mentions "those who live among the stars". Although the work purports to describe the life of Thoth, a god from the sky alleged to have given the people of the Nile the beginnings of science, literature and medicine, the Book of the Dead is laced with mythological serpents, devils and demons.
In India, the Mahabharata is one of two beloved epic poems. The twenty-volume work, written several thousand years ago, is a history of Indian religion and mythology. The poem speaks of "vimans" that fly through the air bearing gods. In another section, two legendary characters battle each other with incredible weaponry that causes the winds to blow. . .meteors lashing down from the firmament. . .a thick gloom. . .the sun no longer gave any heat. . .clouds roared. . . . The elephants and other creatures of the land, scorched by the energy of that weapon, ran in fright. The very waters heated, the creatures residing in that element. . . seemed to burn. The forms of the slain could not be distinguished.
The Dogon of Mali in Africa worship a pyramid with a square, flat top, upon which it is said the "sky gods" landed during their visits in ancient times. Such beings supposedly taught the natives the essentials of surveying and agricultural techniques, but are always referred to as gods. The tale, however, appears to be purely allegorical.*
About the time the Toltec and Mayan cultures were beginning to intermingle (ca. 900 A.D.) there arose the legend of Quetzalcoatl, a bearded, light-skinned man who flew down from the sky to teach men law, astronomy, math, art, and the cultivation of corn and cotton. The feathered serpent was his symbol, and the pyramid built in his honor is the largest in the world (it has a volume nearly 30% greater than the largest Egyptian structure). When Quetzalcoatl’s mission to Earth was completed he returned to the morning star, promising to return someday.
The Mayans themselves are also fascinating because of the extreme accuracy of their calendar system. Furthermore, the units of time in the Mayan system included the alautun, a period of roughly 63,000,000 years! One inscription describes events that occurred 90 million years ago, and another makes mention of a date 400 million years in the past. But without more, unfortunately, a long time-Sense alone cannot be considered compelling proof.
For those who wish to find evidence for extraterrestrials, the Christian Bible is chock-full of marvelous possibilities. The prophet Elijah, for instance, was protected by a fire that came down from heaven and destroyed 100 soldiers and their captains (IV Kings 1:9-12). Soon thereafter he was abducted by a "fiery chariot," and "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." (IV Kings 2:11). Similarly, Enoch is reported shanghaied by God (Genesis 5:24), although his tour of the "seven heavens" and subsequent return to Earth is published elsewhere (in The Book of the Secrets of Enoch).
Jacob wrestles with an angel until dawn and finally overpowers it (Genesis 32:22-33). After forcing the angel to bless him, Jacob releases it, exclaiming in relief: "I have seen a heavenly being face to face, yet my life has been spared."** Daniel encountered a being on a "throne like flames of fire." (Daniel 7:9). In Revelations 4:1-6, Saint John observed "a door standing open in heaven" and then a throne "from which proceeded flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder... and before the throne was a sea of glass like unto crystal." Seated on the throne is a humanoid, surrounded by twenty-four others (the "elders"). The list of biblical tales is virtually endless:
The God to whom Moses frequently speaks appears to lack that strength of resolve we might expect from an omniscient deity. For example, when God is about to destroy Moses’ people the prophet manages to talk the Lord out of it! (Exodus 32:7-14) Furthermore, Moses communicates with the being upon demand in a specially constructed Meeting Tent: "As Moses entered the Tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at its entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses." (Exodus 33:9) And God seems strangely concerned with promulgating an ethical rule that prohibits maltreatment of foreign-looking humanoids: "When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him." (Leviticus 19:33)
Dr. Vyacheslav Zaitzev and Alexander Kazentsev have theorized that both Jesus Christ and the biblical angels might have been ETs. (It is interesting to note that the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus were announced to the respective mothers by angels long before they themselves knew they were pregnant, and that both mothers were barren or virgin at the time.)
Then we have the problem of the Genesis Plurals. There are many of them, but two are of special concern here. The first is as follows: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." (Genesis 1:26) The fact that the plurals "us" and "our" are used gives rise to the speculation that many gods are involved, that is, extraterrestrials. But it is generally accepted that these particular plurals are a veiled reference to the existence of more than one person in God (i.e., the Trinity).
The second Genesis Plural is rather harder to interpret: "And it came to pass. . .that the sons of God saw the daughters of men...and they took them wives of all which they chose. ... When the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men they bore children to them." (Genesis 6:1-4) Who are these "sons of God"? More extraterrestrials? One common explanation is that they are the descendants of Seth and Enos. Ronald Story has suggested that they were "divine beings who belonged to the heavenly court."1870 The issue remains unresolved.
One of the most controversial "contact events" in the Bible may be found in the Book of Ezekiel. To pick one passage of many:
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, when I was in the midst of the captives by the river Chobar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. And I saw, and beheld a whirlwind come out of the north, and a great cloud, and a fire enfolding it, and brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof...was the likeness of four living creatures; and this was their appearance; there was the likeness of a man in them. Every one had four faces, and every one four wings. Their feet were straight feet, and the sole of their foot... sparkled like the appearance of glowing brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they had faces, and wings on the four sides, and the wings of one were joined to the wings of another.
After this "landing," Ezekiel continues:
This was the vision running to and fro in the midst of the living creatures, a bright fire and lightning going forth from the fire. And the living creatures ran and returned like flashes of lightning. Now as I beheld... there appeared upon the earth by the living creatures one wheel with four faces... a wheel within a wheel. When they went they went by their four parts, and they turned not when they went... And over the heads of the living creatures was the likeness of the firmament, as the appearance of crystal, terrible to behold, and stretched out over their heads above... And I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of many waters... and when they stood, their wings were let down. For when a voice came from above the firmament that was over their heads, they stood and let down their wings. And above the firmament was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of the sapphire stone, and upon the throne was the appearance of a man above upon it. (Ezekiel 1:1-26)
According to the late Josef Blumrich, former chief of the systems layout branch at the Marshall Spaceflight Center of NASA, Ezekiel was confronted with an "Earth Excursion Module" manned by an alien pilot. In Spaceships of Ezekiel, Blumrich presents detailed engineering analyses of a plug-nozzle planetary landing vehicle that has been seriously considered by aeronautical designers at NASA and elsewhere. Its "wings" are helicopter blades affixed to four columns supporting the rocket mechanism . The aerospace engineer concludes that his design would be optimal for the required missions, which are: (1) Earth-to-orbit, and (2) Short surface-to-surface hops.
The spaceship seen from a distance of about 190 feet
An example of the depiction of the traditional interpretation. The spacecraft began its flight to the earth with the separation from the mothership at an altitude of probably about 220 nautical miles. During the flight through the atmosphere, its speed was reduced by aerodynamic drag until eventually, at low altitudes, a brief firing of the rocket engine reduced the speed enough so that the spaceship could use its helicopters for the rest of the descent. This last phase of the flight, which begins with the brief firing of the rocket engine, was witnessed and described by Ezekiel.
Later he observes the spacecraft as it hovers a few feet above the ground in search of a suitable landing site. The brief bursts of the control rockets occur in a sequence seen as irregular by Ezekiel who construes them as lightning flickering in the space that separates the living beings. This diverts his attention from the fascinating beings to the area between them, and thus he now sees the radiator of the reactor glowing like smoldering coals.
The spacecraft has landed.
Wheels, which were housed in the lower portion of the helicopter units during the flight, have now been deployed. The straight legs with their round feet no longer touch the ground.